In a week of Premier League clubs welcoming home their aging heroes, Thierry Henry, as so often in his footballing career, has shown himself to be the best in yet another aspect of football: this time, Henry proved himself to be the best at returning to a former club against expectations – and scoring the vital winner.
With Arsenal locked at 0-0 in the Emirates Stadium, Henry came off the bench with around 22 minutes of play remaining, before proceeding to slot home a cool finish which won the Gunners a difficult FA Cup Third Round tie with Leeds United, 1-0.
For Henry, it seemed very much business as usual. The only difference between the Henry of 2012, and the Henry who last played for Arsenal in 2007 being the fact that it was the man next to him as he entered the field, Theo Walcott, who wore the number 14 shirt. At 34 years old, Henry showed that his six and a half week loan from the New York Red Bulls (which may be extended to eight weeks) may be more important to Arsenal than just a cameo in the sun.
Until Henry’s goal, Leeds United – who have been magnificent under Simon Grayson, who has led them from the very doldrums of English football in recent seasons, including some impressive performances in this competition – showed why they are still in contention for at least a play-off place: they looked close to being the Premier League outfit that Leeds fans used to expect. That it took until the 78th minute for Arsenal to break them down – and that they had to introduce their best ever weapon to do so – is testament to Leeds’ resilience.
But, alas for Leeds, it seemed the stage had been set for Henry, and the man whom Arsene Wenger described afterwards as a player who “doesn’t want to disappoint people” certainly managed to do just the opposite, as the Emirates Stadium made a noise that has been notably absent in recent months.
Henry’s goal came when he latched onto an inch perfect through ball from Alex Song and then struck the ball firmly and surely into the bottom corner. It was trademark Arsenal. Trademark Henry.
Leeds did produce one or two chances of note – including a late chance for Mikael Forssell which was well saved by Wojciech Szczesny, who later celebrated the final whistle by sprinting the length of the pitch to be near Thierry Henry. It is clear the whole club has received a boost from his presence.
Henry, whose statue stands at the ground, still makes more of a difference in the flesh for the Gunners.